Vegas Voices is a weekly question-and-answer series featuring notable Las Vegans.
Joshua Abbey was born in Albuquerque, went to grade school in Hoboken, N.J., and grew up “all over the Southwest” with his parents, author Edward Abbey and artist Rita Deanin Abbey. But he’s been in Las Vegas since 1965, he says, “off and on, mostly on.”
Abbey, who says he’s “pushing 60,” has used his background in the arts — he has a theater degree from UNLV and a producing degree from the American Film Institute — to help launch three local film festivals, the youngest of which, the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival, is Nevada’s longest-running film festival. The 15th installment is scheduled for Jan. 9-24 and is highlighted by the opening-night screening, “Son of Saul,” which was awarded the Grand Prix at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. For a complete schedule, see www.lvjff.org.
We spoke with Abbey about his love of film and festivals.
Review-Journal: Why do you think you’re drawn to film festivals?
Abbey: I just realized over time that there are so many really important films that have been created that just never get to the mainstream, even these days with the access of cable and online media, that are really well served by the film festival format. And the idea of giving audiences a chance to interact and share their impressions with the filmmakers or people that are experts in the topic or subject matter of a particular film, creates a dynamic and is something that inspires me and encourages me to do what I do.
R-J: When did you first develop an interest in film?
Abbey: There used to be a theater on Paradise Road called the Cinerama. This was back in the ’60s. … I saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” there. I also saw “A Clockwork Orange” there. That kind of taught me how powerful film can be.
R-J: You were one of the founders of CineVegas. How did that come together?
Abbey: I had come out of AFI, and rather than stay in Hollywood and try to make a career as an independent producer, I came back to Las Vegas because I wanted to help develop the cultural infrastructure here. … I came back in 1993 and started the Las Vegas Literary Film Festival, which was totally unique and very rewarding. And then people came to me.
R-J: Yet you left almost right away. What happened?
Abbey: It took me four years to create it, but I only survived the first year because it was more successful than I suppose I could manage.
R-J: So what prompted you to start the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival?
Abbey: I’ve just always had a strong connection to the Jewish community. And Jewish film festivals serve a very pragmatic purpose, and that is to celebrate Jewish life, educate about Jewish history and tradition, engage Jews who may not be involved in the Jewish community because it’s a very easy way to get back involved. And it’s also an outreach to the non-Jewish community, because it’s for everyone to learn about one of the most ancient faiths and people on Earth.
R-J: Do you have a favorite memory from the first 14 installments?
Abbey: Being able to help give Holocaust survivors a platform to share their experience with younger generations is certainly one of the most gratifying elements of the work I do.
R-J: Are you surprised at all by how successful it’s been?
Abbey: “Success” is always a tentative euphemism. Every year I have to work very hard to sustain my core support and survey what’s available in terms of Jewish cinema output. I probably view, on average, two movies a day over the course of the year.
R-J: So many film festivals have come and gone during the festival’s 15 years. To what do you attribute your success?
Abbey: I’d say obstinance. I tend to achieve what’s most important for me to achieve.
R-J: You obviously welcome all movie lovers, regardless of their faith. But what would you tell Gentiles who may be on the fence about attending the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival?
Abbey: Goys half price. (He’s joking.)
— Contact Christopher Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter: @life_onthecouch